Not long ago, I was talking to a source. “Karin,” he told me, “I like getting your newsletter, but I don’t always like reading what’s in it.”
Undisputedly, the past year — the past several years, really — have been a bad-news time for international education. So I want to do something a little different this week, and tell you about a recent rallying cry I heard for the reinvigoration and renewed importance of international education. And the person making the case is not who you might expect.
At last week’s Association of International Education Administrators conference, I was asked to moderate the closing plenary, a conversation with Michael Osterholm, a leading epidemiologist and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. The man’s a public-health rock star, and I was a little intimidated that I might have to reel him in from talking about mRNA vaccines and spike proteins to focus in on international research and collaboration.
But Osterholm, who has traveled around the work for his work and as a U.S. State Department science envoy, told me that global research ties have been critical in fighting the pandemic. To be effective in moments of crisis, such partnerships have to be nurtured over time.
The role that colleges play — in cultivating international science, in welcoming students from overseas and sending others abroad, and through curriculum that emphasizes the 21st century challenge of working across borders — is critical, Osterholm said:
You can’t consider yourself an institution of higher learning unless you understand the importance of international education. To me, that’s like trying to play a baseball game without pitchers. It doesn’t work.
Like Covid-19, many of the most important challenges we confront, from climate change to maternal health, demand a global response. Helping people grapple with this interconnectedness and build mutual understanding is the goal of international education, and now may be a “renaissance” for such work. International educators must be some of its loudest advocates, Osterholm said:
“Help others understand why it’s so important. Why starting this up again is not only in the institution’s best interest but in the world’s best interest….
“Please don’t get disheartened by this pause. If anything, I’m hopeful there might be more understanding of why international education, international collaboration, is so important. It’s that old line, sometimes you don’t know until you lose something what you really had. And I think this past year we’ve learned a lot about what it might look like if international education wasn’t the way it once was.”
OK, now for the rest of the week’s news…